aka YA Literature

Monday, December 29, 2008

2008 Favorites

With the end of the year, it's time for all the "best of" lists.   I choose to do "favorites" instead since I didn't read nearly enough to choose "the best."  Plus, it's too subjective anyway.  So these are just my favorites of the year.  

I'm pretty happy with the NYT picks, even though I never read Sunrise Over Fallujah.  I can't get behind any list with TDHOFL-B, however.

My favorites:
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Ink Exchange by Melissa Marr
City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

As an aside, even though I read The Disreputable History months ago and loved it and have given it prime display space at the circulation desk and recommended it to students, it hasn't been checked out once.  I'm sad about this, and I don't know what else to do.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

Just after WWII, 15 year-old Evie goes on an off-season vacation with her bombshell mother and her step-father. Her step-father is a war veteran and owns some successful appliance stores. Evie adores her mother, not only because she's admired and beautiful, but also because her mother has always been there for her, even during tough times when she was raising Evie as a single mother. Evie also adores her step-father because she finally has a father in her life who takes care of her and gives her attention. A young veteran who served with her step-father in the war shows up, and Evie falls in love with him. Her mother chaperones secret outings for them since her step-father doesn't want them having anything to do with each other. [Achtung: Possible spoilers ahead] The young man, Peter, tells Evie some things about her step-father that are, to say the least, unflattering. When there is an investigation into Peter's suspicious death, Evie has to make a decision about what she will reveal and whether she will tell the truth about what she knows.

Loved it. Extra bonus: the cover is appealing and the title is intriguing and completely perfect for the novel. I think it would be appropriate for middle schoolers too. All my students who have read it have really liked it. Great characterization, perfect pace, and unique and interesting plot.

Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles

Brittany Ellis appears to have the perfect life. She is co-captain of the cheerleading squad and is dating the captain of the school's football team. She's beautiful, rich, and popular. Little does anyone know, this is all a carefully crafted and protected facade that she works hard to maintain because, in reality, her home life is far from perfect. Her older sister has cerebal palsy, and Brittany's parents would like nothing better than to send her sister away to a school rather than take care of her at home. Her father is hardly ever at home, and when he is, he is distant and absent from any meaninfgul involvement with his family. Her mom is hyper-critical, and Brittany feels she has to be perfect to make up for her sister's "imperfections."

Alex Fuentes is a member of the Latino Bloods in Chicago. He's pretty smart, but he doesn't see a future for himself that involves anything other than being in the gang because he sees it as the only way to protect his younger brothers from joining. His father was killed in drug/gang-related activity when he was young, and Alex seems to get in trouble at school all the time, even when he's not doing anything wrong. Alex and Brittany get paired as chemistry partners for a year-long assignment to make hand-warmers. They dislike each other a lot at first, but eventually they come to realize that the other is not who they appear on the surface. Actually, they discover, they have a lot in common and are very attracted to each other. They develop a romance, despite the objections of pretty much everyone else in their lives.

I'd recommend this to fans of Sarah Dessen and Sara Zarr. However, although the romance appeals to me, it's probably not going to be one that I recommend to a lot of readers. The voices of the characters seemed very inauthentic to me. They seemed like something an adult writer would create for a teen book rather than voices of real teens. I also felt that Alex was too "good." He did almost everything bad under duress, and he didn't do any of the bad things he was accused of by the school adminsitrators. The basic plot device is one that has been done a lot, and in my opinion, this doesn't add much new to the story: uptown girl with seemingly perfect life attracted to the bad boy "from (literally) the wrong side of the tracks" with a heart of gold. And while they insisted throughout the book that Brittany and Alex discovered how much they had in common, I just didn't see it. Plus, Brittany's boyfriend was almost completely unlikeable. I would have liked to see a more nuanced, complex character (like the jilted boyfriends in Sweethearts or Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac). The ending [SPOILER ALERT!] was probably the thing that I liked least about the book. A different ending could have made these other criticisms less significant in my mind. I'm always one to want a happy ending, but this was too neat and unlikely, even for me. I mean, not only did Alex get out of the gang, but he moved to Colorado to go to college with Brittany and then they ended up having a child they named after Alex's dead friend, and then their son was in chemistry class with their same teacher. It's super cute, but just too much for me. This is the ending I wanted for Zarr's Sweethearts, but that novel worked better because the ending was so much more realistic and a necessary outcome of the characters and circumstances. But if you want to read something that has the feel of Sweethearts with the ending you always wanted for Cameron and Jenna, this might be the book for you.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


On her blog, Justine Larbalestier brought up the question of what books you are most looking forward to in 2009. Here are mine, in order:

1. Sacred Scars by Kathleen Duey

2. Fragile Eternity by Melissa Marr

3. City of Glass by Cassandra Clare

4. Fetch by Laura Whitcomb

5. Andromeda Klein by Frank Portman

6. Along for the Ride by Sarah Dessen

There might be others if I knew about them. Sacred Scars is by far the one I'm most needing to read because it's been soooo long since I read and loved Skin Hunger.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Book Covers

The Book Design Review has its best book covers of 2008. There are no YA books, but it got me thinking of my favorite book covers. I hate when a great book has a bland cover. Students will pick up a boring book with a great cover over a great book with a boring cover any day, and I don't blame them. Even when the cover is "perfect" for the book, that doesn't mean it's going to interest anyone in picking it up off the shelf. It's soooo frustrating for me as a librarian to get books with covers that I know are not going to sell the book. I love Hunger Games and Little Brother and I've been able to hand-sell those easily to students, not to mention they share them with each other, but the covers of those books could have been so much cooler. I didn't dislike those covers; they just didn't do justice to their books.

Here are my favorite covers of this year:

John Green & Seventeen

John Green made videos for Seventeen magazine's website. One of them, featured below, offers relationship advice to the "dumpers" and the "dumpees." This whole concept amuses me. First, let me say that I think it's great that Seventeen is including things related to teen lit. But having said that, how many teen girls will come across these videos on Seventeen? I can see Green's already loyal fans watching them if they're directed there, but I'm not sure that it would find new audiences (but I hope it does!). Second, for whatever reason it just amuses me that John Green is giving "relationship advice" to teen girls on Seventeen. I'm sure he never pictured that for his life.